Cannonball is in a similar situation. The Sonoma-based groove band, led by trombonist Adam Theis, concocts a dance-happy fusion of hip hop, Latin jazz, funk, and turntablism that narrow-minded listeners may dismiss as too polyglot. Using up to 20 different players on its wildly imaginative debut, Hiphopulation, Cannonball takes the musical lessons of the last 50 years and distills them into a forward-pointing powder keg of sound.
The album announces the band's plan straight away, turning a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Too High" into a platform for MC Reign to rap over. As Reign spins her own tale, trumpeter David Chachere blows hard-bop harmonies over a cool Afro-Cuban beat, similar in style to '60s-era Lee Morgan. After "Too High," the album cruises through a variety of strategies. The four-part statement of purpose "Don't Just Follow" features the ensemble vocals of MCs Dublin, SamIam, Jebediah, Stoli, and Newmanatt. Cannonball Adderley's "Work Song" becomes a funk tour de force with big band shadings and Joe Cohen's full-bodied sax work. On each number, trap drummer Paul Spina and bassist Ryan Newman give the ensemble a solid foundation, while the horn section maneuvers through complex passages.
Unconventional sounds abound on the record: There's didgeridoo on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," djembe African drums on the humorous number "Shofar," and timbales and bongos throughout. But the biggest "travesty" is the group's use of scratching. DJs Aspect and Turtle offer a distinct take on syncopation and time that purists may hate; not since the early '90s work of the Broun Fellinis has there been a smoother collision of jazz and hip hop. By including electronic sounds, Cannonball challenges the acoustic nature of the jazz mainstream, much as Miles Davis did in the '70s. With Hiphopulation, the group suggests where the music must go in order to survive and be meaningful to the next generation of listeners.